The War Diary of George Culpitt, Royal Welch Fusiliers
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Chapter 18 Fritz's Spring Offensive
I had therefore had just over a month's rest out of the line for which I was very thankful. I had also been fortunate enough to escape the commencement of Fritz's spring offensive with its successful start. News of the Battalion leaked through at different times and we learned that Fritz had commenced on the Somme. Our division had been removed from Armentiers to Nr. Albert, and Fritz had attacked two days after they left Armentiers, and of course had things all his own way as the troops in opposition. to him had already been in action on the Somme. The enemy was also too artful and too well prepared to go right through Armentiers which would have meant heavy street fighting and caused much loss of life, he shelled the town with gas shells for days on end until the streets were uninhabitable and the troops driven out because of the fumes. Then attacking on both flanks he succeeded in taking the town without incurring the loss caused by street fighting.
1 returned by way of St. Martins Camp, to Rouen While waiting in Abbeville Station, the station was shelled by a high velocity enemy gun. The line was only 8 kilometres away as it was near Amiens which was being threatened by the enemy at this time. We were rather glad to get away, from it although the train seemed reluctant to leave the station. It was nearly 3 hours before we finally got away.
On the 20th after the usual round of trials and practices I was warned for draft.
On my birthday, April 22nd, I travelled all day up to the line back to my battalion. About mid-day I lost my rifle on the train. It must have fallen out of the opening owing to the jolting. This was unfortunate and would have caused me much anxiety in former days but now I was at least fairly certain that an opportunity would present itself to get another before very long. On detraining we waited some four hours and then marched to Battalion details arriving about 11.30 at Contay.
On 23rd April we joined the Battalion in the line to find that they had been over the previous evening at 7.00 p.m. The attack was an attempt to straighten a small portion of the line and obtain a more suitable point for jumping off in any future 'do'. Our casualties were heavy owing to the Artillery barrage going over the German machine gun outposts who played ducks and drakes with our advancing lines. The resulting confusion caused our attack to fall off with loss of half the Battalion for nothing of any consequence. I found that we were left of C Company were situated in a shallow lot of trenches affording very little cover. There were 35 of the original 112 left.
At daybreak, the enemy opened heavy artillery fire and we stood to for a counter attack which the enemy made on the 2nd R.W.F. but was beaten off. Shelling continued all day and all night and things looked pretty unpleasant.
On the night of the 24th I was one of a party detailed to go back for ammunition which was a heavy job, but as we were also looking forward to being relieved we did not mind. At dawn on the 25th we were withdrawn from the outpost line to the original position, as there was going to be a 'Strafe' and we spent the day in. these trenches. returning, to the outpost at night from which we were finally relieved at midnight. Owing to shelling on the way back we did not get to billets at Walroy until nearly 5 a.m. and directly we had had some grub we got down to it and had a well earned rest.
On April 27th we fell in and. marched away about 7.20 a.m. reaching billets at 10 a.m.
Four days passed in the usual 'restful' manner of drill and marching and on May 2nd we returned to the line taking up a position as, Brigade reserve, some 2000 yards behind the F.L. This march was over 20 kilometres and our destination, Bouzancourt - in bivouacs. At 8.30 p.m. we were out again for trench digging fatigue for four hours.
On May 3rd there was heavy artillery activity all day, and wiring fatigue at night at 7.45 p.m. Owing, to continued shelling of the road we were delayed at the start for nearly an hour, but we finished at 12.30 p.m.
On the 5th we went into the line, starting at 7.45 p.m. Just after we started Fritz sent over 2 salvos of artillery fire at about 3 minute intervals which although near, only inflicted 1 casualty. Then it started to rain which just about the limit as we were heavily laden and the clay ground caused much slipping, but finally we got to No. 8 post and relieved the 16th Battalion. A quiet day on the 6th except for shelling of the rear was followed by a continuous downpour of rain from about 8 p.m. to dawn next day. It proved to be by far one of the most unpleasant nights I had had for sore time as, being in the Front Line extreme caution was necessary and such was made doubly hard owing to the rain banging on the tin helmet, making hearing difficult and streaming down my glasses, making seeing, an impossibility.
Towards the afternoon of May 7th it began to clear up and it kept quiet from the gun point of view.
1 a.m. on the night of May 8th-9th a bombing raid took place on the right causing heavy bombardment of our sector, followed by another the next night, May 9th-10th. On each occasion - 2 hours of unpleasantness.
At 9 a.m. on May 10th the 114th Brigade made an attack on the celebrated Aveluy Wood and the strafe lasted nearly 3 hours. We did not suffer largely in casualties but several had narrow escapes. The wood was, taken but at rather a heavy cost. The same afternoon we were relieved from the F.L. and returned to the Support line. After a rest we started the usual sentries and it fell to my lot to go on from 5-7 and 1-3 on May 11th.
Next day I had to go as No. 2 Heavy Gunner with a chap named Jones on a post in the Communication Trench returning the day after (May 13th). Relieved from here the same night we went some 800 yards further back to a line of bivouacs behind the Reserve line and occupied the next 12 days, trench making and dugout digging. On the 16th, just after our return from the usual fatigue we were ordered to pack up immediately as we were going to bivouacs further back and then on to have a bath. We marched Full Fighting Order to the bivouacs and dumped the magazines of Levis Gun ammo we were carrying. Then on to the baths at Headville!? After the bath we returned to the bivouacs which he dug a stretcher over holes in a deep chasm situated from which some 200 yards away vas an 8" battery, of artillery covered in a wood. From time to time these fired and the row was deafening, but we got our grub, and settled down to a well deserved rest. Hardly had we started to sleep, in fact I had just dozed off, when Fritz, having evidently found out where this battery was, started to give it socks with 8" long range shells. They were not quite sure of the range, however, and consequently we poor blighters got the best part of their attention as most of their shells fell among our bivouacs. As the first two or three shells passed in quick succession just over our heads and landed with deafening reports only a few yards away. For a second or two everyone seemed to be struck helpless, so sudden and unexpected was the shelling. Then everyone ran for their lives leaving all their goods and chattels.
Falling over in the dark tent pegs and into holes, unseen, while the shells came over in quick succession. I ran to the left and for a while was out of range, but ultimately had to go back and away to the right where some half built dugouts afforded a shelter. Here we were compelled to remain for the night to return early next morning to get our goods and go on fatigue. After this was finished we had to shift our bivouac as a result of the previous nights shelling.